The time you spend having fun with your small dog can also be used to gently introduce basic training – this means rewarding and encouraging good behaviour, and ignoring (but never punishing) unwanted behaviour. With time and patience, your small dog’s good behaviour will become a habit, and your time together will be even more enjoyable.
Small dog breeds often have a strong personality and that can make them challenging to train. They can also have a surprisingly loud bark so it’s important to ‘socialise’ small dogs from a young age – ideally in the first 15 weeks when vets believe your small dog is most open to new experiences.
Socialisation means getting your small dog used to new sights and sounds while he’s still a puppy – from meeting new people and playing with other dogs, to ignoring the sound of a vacuum cleaner or walking calmly in a busy street. If you often use public transport, your small dog must learn how to travel by bus or train without become anxious. And if your small dog becomes very excited when he meets new people, rather than asking him (unsuccessfully!) to lie down, you could teach him a different trick – bowing his head or offering a paw – and use that command as a distraction.
Training your small dog starts with some basic commands: ‘settle’, ‘come here’ and ‘leave it’ – the last two are very important. ‘Come here’ could lead your small dog away from danger, and ‘leave it’ could stop your small dog from eating something poisonous. Be consistent with the words you use for each command, and control your tone of voice.
This combines a sound that your small dog will recognise, and a reward for the right response. However, it takes practice and careful timing because the ‘click’ is telling your small dog that he has done the right thing, and he will expect a reward. Join a local behaviour training class to learn more.
If you want to reward your small dog with food treats, use very small pieces of kibble, one piece at a time, and take them from your small dog’s daily food allowance. And don’t forget strokes and cuddles when your small dog follows your command – he’ll be thrilled with such a positive response!
Separation anxiety can be a problem but there are things you can do in puppyhood to prevent your small dog becoming anxious as an adult. For example, you can include separation exercises in your basic training. Use stair gates to encourage your small dog to spend time in a separate room without becoming agitated, and occasionally pick up your keys or coat, then put them down again without going out – your small dog will learn that these items don’t always mean you’re going to disappear. When you do leave the house, give your small dog a comfortable place to sleep, fresh water and toys or puzzles to keep him busy.
Walks and play time can be used for training, too – gentle games of tug-of-war encourage sharing, and fetching a toy is a simple way of teaching your small dog to come back. You can even teach your small dog to pee on command if you verbally praise him as soon as he starts peeing, and reward him immediately afterwards. If you live in an urban area, it’s good to let your small dog play in wide, open spaces whenever you can – there are likely to be more distractions, so it’s a great opportunity for you and your small dog to test out all those clever new commands!